Dear Brutus is a brave choice. A work by J.M Barrie that has seldom been performed in Britain, it has come to the O’Reilly Theatre for the play’s 100th anniversary. It feels like a cross between a period drama and a fairy-tale, with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in for good measure; that might sound a little bizarre but the end result was rather enthralling. In hindsight, I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard of Dear Brutus before; first and foremost, I would like to thank the director, Alexia Kirk, for introducing me to a play that I think will stick with me for some time. I described Dear Brutus as a brave choice but in this instance I think the cast and crew may have pulled it off.
Focused on the possibility of a second chance, Dear Brutus is a poignant exploration of the idea of a parallel universe where our lives might have been different, a pre-occupation held by almost everyone on the planet. That is one of the reasons I enjoyed the play so much: I found it rather relatable in many senses, who among us hasn’t wondered about whether their lives could have turned out quite differently had circumstances been different.
All this questioning is set in the context of a country house, owned by the peculiar Lob, played brilliantly by Patrick Orme. Lob invites an assortment of guests to his country house for Midsummers Eve and then tells them of a mystical forest where they can find a second chance. The assortment of guests is no accident, each with their own problems and each curious as to what their second chance may look like, most of them seize the opportunity to explore a parallel version of themselves and this is where the play gets interesting.
I described Dear Brutus as a brave choice but in this instance I think the cast and crew may have pulled it off.
I would not say that this production was without flaws: the opening scene left me sceptical, I felt the dynamics between the female members of the cast were not particularly strong, although this certainly improved throughout the play. Moreover, there were some moments which felt a little clichéd, for example in the scenes between Mr Purdie and Joanne Trout. However, this play really comes into its own in the second act: it is the second act that there are some of the more touching and indeed exciting moments of the play. One scene I must mention in particular was between Mr Dearth and his daughter Margaret, in which the daughter accompanies her father as he does some painting in the forest. This was one of the most moving parts of the play and both, James Geddes and Mati Warner, did a wonderful job in bringing out the tenderness of this father-daughter relationship. Other performances worthy of mention include Teddy Briggs who played Mabel Purdie and Rose Deemer as Alice Dearth. Both of these women brought their layered female characters to life in a fascinating way and I thoroughly enjoyed their presence on stage.
It seemed as if more could have been done with the set design and sound to contribute to the ethereal nature of the scenes in the forest. It was in these respects that the performance was lacking slightly; I feel like a little more thought as to the sound design could have gone a long way for this production and raised it to something remarkable. A similar criticism could be applied to the set design, whilst it complimented the play well, I was left desiring something just a little bit more spectacular considering the magical elements of the story.
There were a couple of issues with this production and yet by the end of the play I was so engrossed in the character’s stories that these issues almost began to melt away. Dear Brutus, could probably do with a little more polish but that doesn’t mean it is not an enjoyable experience. The cast did a wonderful job bringing this eccentric, poignant tale to life and I would catch this rarely performed, but brilliantly human, play in the O’Reilly whilst you still can.
Dear Brutus in the O’Reilly Theatre from the 26th of April until the 29th at 7:30pm. There is a Saturday Matinee at 2:30pm on the 29th .